Big-Screen `Power Rangers' Still A Bit Weak

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XX "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie," with Jason Scott Frank, Steve Cardenas, David Yost, Johnny Yong Bosch, Amy Jo Johnston, Karen Ashley, Paul Freeman. Directed by Bryan Spicer. Aurora, Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Issaquah 9, Kent, Metro, Mountlake 9, Newmark, Parkway Plaza, Puyallup, SeaTac Mall, Totem Lake, Valley drive-in. "PG" - Parental guidance suggested; mild violence. -----------------------------------------------------------------

If most movie spin-offs of TV shows could improve on the original as much as the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" movie does, the world would be a better place. The only problem: the Morphin TV show stinks.

A mix of "Star Wars," dubbed karate movies and "H.R. Pufnstuf," the TV phenomenon has been helped greatly by Hollywood's big money. Cardboard sets and tacky special effects have been replaced by computer-driven effects. The TV show's action sequences dubbed from the original Japanese show are jettisoned.

The movie even tries to create a story. It involves a universal good guy who has bestowed power to six teenagers to fight evil. If you haven't noticed, there's a lot of intergalactic evil these days. A new villain, Ivan Ooze (played by Paul Freeman), has been unearthed from his 6,000-year-old cell. Quickly he forms his plan to alienate his nemesis Zordan, destroy the power of the Rangers and, yawn, take over the world.

With the last of their powers, the Rangers travel to a distant planet to capture a new force. Here they find the keeper of the planet, Dulcea, whom Wayne and Garth would call a "Kung Fu babe." She turns the Rangers into new, somewhat Sahara Desert-looking Rangers, each tied to a new animal force. It's a clever way to place new merchandise - you'll now have to buy all those new Ranger models for the kids.

It's easy to see why the Rangers are popular. Even before they magically morph, the kids are sky-diving, roller-blading and living without parental authority. And they kick serious butt. But it's all done quite unhumorously. For maximum kid interest, the television Ranger cast reprises their roles, but only the leader (Jason David Frank) makes even a slight impression.

Still, it's better than any "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie or the like. The sky-diving sequence is the most exhilarating since "Point Break" and the setting in the unfamiliar terrain of Australia keeps the movie visually engaging.

Director Bryan Spicer (a veteran of TV's "seaQuest") and his crew have highlighted this $30 million movie with a number of monsters and special effects.

Some of the time we don't know where the effects end and merchandising begins. The final confrontation between Transformer-type machines is quite inventive, including Ivan's giant metallic scorpion and bee that do battle in the streets. The Rangers counter with seven - count 'em - seven new machines.

The kids will remind you to stop at the toy store on the way home to buy them all.